XVI. DIALOGUE WITH THE RWANDAN GOVERNMENT
When foreign criticism of rural reorganization mounted and international assistance for housing construction correspondingly declined in late 1998 and 1999, Rwandan officials launched a new initiative to obtain international support for the program. In July 1999, the Ministry of Lands, Human Resettlement and Environmental Protection reaffirmed the rural reorganization policy, saying "Imidugudu will [be] the only recommended and promoted form of settlement in rural areas. The ultimate objective of the Government is to enable the entire rural population to live in the grouped settlements."82 Although unyielding on the policy itself, most officials, including President Kagame, conceded that there had been problems with its implementation. Kagame told donors in July 1999, "There have been a few setbacks during the implementation phase, which varied with local leadership. However, the experience has generally been positive and we shall correct the deficiencies as we move along."83 For its part, the ministry claimed that shortcomings in implementation had resulted from "the vast number of people in need of urgent shelter; the consequent pressure on local authorities; the `large number of NGOs involved in the exercise;' and the limited coordination capacity of the Government."
The ministry also promised that a "participatory" approach would characterize implementation of the policy in the future, seeming to suggest that coercion would not be used. And, in fact, residents in the northwest indicated that in several cases local authorities did not follow through with planned announcements of impending relocations during 2000. In August 2000, one person from Ruhengeri commented, "At one point, the burgomaster and the prefect said just wait, we will destroy your houses and put you in sheeting. Now the prefect says that it is not necessary to destroy houses. Give people time to build as they have the means. This is a big relief for us."84
In the second half of 1999 and during 2000, authorities also made efforts to improve the conditions in those imidugudu where residents lived in the worst squalor. The national government promised to provide some 20 million Rwandan francs or $50,000 for roofing and the prefects of Ruhengeri and Gisenyi both said they were encouraging local enterprises which could produce roofing materials at low cost for local people.85 Conditions in the large umudugudu in Kinigi, one of the worst in the northwest, benefitted from new resources and official attention after President Kagame visited and promised improvements in August 2000. The government sought to encourage visits by foreign tourists to the gorilla preserve in the volcanoes just north of Kinigi and visitors must drive through this commune to enter the park; this, too, may have played a part in the decision to improve conditions there. At the end of 2000, visitors no longer saw blindés but rather wood-framed houses in Kinigi. Mosthouses appeared smaller than those found in other imidugudu and the quality of construction of the walls varied considerably, with some being made of leaves, others mud, others plastic sheeting, or pieces of metal. Some of these houses had metal roofs which were distributed among residents by lottery since there were not enough for everyone. At the time of one visit in late December, local people were breaking rocks into gravel along the roads. They said the gravel would be used to make concrete for foundations for the houses. Outside the umudugudu, there were no houses at all, although the concrete or stone foundations of former homes were still visible, some with vegetation sprouting through them.86
In efforts to push the international community to renewed generosity, Rwandan authorities continued to stress the overwhelming scale of the housing emergency, which, they said, was not quite finished. They sometimes exaggerated the extent of the crisis by totaling the numbers of all returnees-"old" and "new"- to arrive at a total of 2,670,00087 and by failing to distinguish between returnees, mostly Tutsi, who came from the outside with nothing and the far-larger number of Hutu returnees who had homes they could reoccupy, even if they required repairs. Having depicted the overwhelming nature of the crisis, officials then insisted that they had had no choice but to impose the resettlement policy, particularly in view of the need for reconciliation and promoting social harmony. In one such presentation to a donors' meeting in London, then Vice-President Kagame said, "In a society attempting to heal from the genocide the potential for exacerbating tension and conflict due to limited land resources cannot be underestimated. In many instances there was no alternative where 4 million (sic) people had to be settled."88
Government officials often tried to make international actors feel at least indirectly responsible for the problems linked to the imidugudu. They implied that many of the deficiencies resulted from the dwindling of international aid and could be remedied by increasing that aid. One senior official even suggested that the reduction in foreign aid demonstrated partiality to the Hutu-that donors became sufficiently concerned about problems of implementation to cut assistance only after the imidugudu program touched people of the northwest.89
Skillful in playing upon foreigners' sense of guilt about their conduct in Rwanda, government officials also called upon other possible arguments to persuade international actors to support the imidugudu plan. In one case, a bishop-perhaps with official encouragement-tried to persuade a foreign ambassador in Kigali that women benefitted particularly from the establishment of imidugudu: he asserted that husbands beat their wives less often in the settlements because they feared embarassment if neighbors were to hear thenoise of the beating. Given that women were among those to suffer most from forced relocation, this claim of benefit to women seemed especially cynical.90
To dispel skepticism resulting from earlier "lack of transparency"91 about the intended objectives of the resettlement program, government officials in late 1999 began a dialogue with representatives of donors, U.N. agencies, and NGOs. They worked through the steering committee of the JRPU, the coordination unit for U.N. agencies mentioned above, to which they submitted a report about imidugudu in early December 1999.
This report finally spurred international interluctors to confront the continuing confusion between housing for the homeless and the rural reorganization program. In a note prepared by the Belgian, British, Canadian, French, German, Italian, Swedish, Swiss and Netherlands embassies and cooperation missions, they asked whether dialogue with the government was "meant `to deal with the issue of the lack of shelter' or rather the "current practice" of `resettlement' (moving people that already have shelter). . . ." They stated further:
Shelter for the homeless, rehabilitating damaged shelter and relocating people
who have shelter are not necessarily contradictory policies. However, they
are different and must be clearly distinguished, especially as the latter implies
abandoning existing shelter. . . .92
The donors asked for "a clear chronology of relevant legislation" and said that "designing a policy without a clear legal framework seems rather useless." They called for coherent statistics and pointed out the discrepancies in the report between the estimation that some 370,000 persons needed homes-which would mean some 74,000 homes-and the statement that some 300,000 homes were needed. And they insisted that the government's new "strategy" of a "participatory approach" needed further elaboration. "The mere statement about `involving the population at all levels of the process' is extremely meagre, . . ." they said. They added, "The fact that the population will be forced to change their traditional way of living should equally not be disregarded."93.
Other international interlocutors also raised the need for more detailed information the proposed "participatory" approach to changing rural life. A memo from UNDP talked about the importance of a "consensual" solution to resettlement.94 Similarly, the internationalNGO forum commented that the new government rhetoric about popular involvement was not backed by concrete measures. It asked, "Will participation be more than `sensitisation' at the planning stage, more than `agreeing' at site identification stage, more than making bricks at the implementation stage?"95
The official charged with responding to these criticisms simply asserted that "The GoR arrived at this decision [to implement the habitat policy] as a result of broad consultations at all levels."96 This claim misrepresented the history of the policy, as detailed above.
After months of dialogue, Rwandan authorities in July 2000 formulated a request for $400 million, about three times the total national budget for the fiscal year 2000, to provide housing for an estimated 370,000 households. This number represented an increase of 120,000 over the number estimated to need housing in 1997 despite the construction of more than 100,000 houses in the interim. The request did not explain this puzzling increase in need.97
The appeal for funds simply stressed that the housing emergency continued and that the money was needed for the truly vulnerable persons living in miserable conditions. Authorities played again on the key words that proved so successful in the past, claiming that the program promoted reconciliation and security. The objectives for which the habitat policy was originally developed-the rationalization of land use and the promotion of economic development-were mentioned last as reasons for the settlement policy.98
As in the previous July, the government claimed that the problems involved in implementing the imidugudu program resulted from the urgency of the crisis, the number of NGOs building the houses, and the lack of coordination by and with the government. But in this bid for renewed support, it acknowledged the problems in greater the detail. It said that locating imidugudu on fertile, flat land forced residents to cultivate less fertile slopes, "risking low yields and environmental degradation." It cited construction of houses which were "too small, too close together, and lacked privacy." It said also that local people "were not generally involved in site selection, house design, plot size decision making or other aspects of planning and implementing the resettlement policy. The result was a lack of ownership on the part of the people who are expected to live in the imidugudu." It mentioned "great disparities of access to social services for people living in imidugudu," particularly in access to clean water. Among other criticisms, it included the "lack of income-generating activities and market access" and "social issues including the lack of social cohesion andrisks of `ghettoization,'" apparently a reference to the monoethnic nature of most imidugudu.99
In increasingly critical correspondence with the Rwandan authorities in late 1999 and 2000, foreign funders apparently did not raise directly the use of coercion or force in relocating rural residents, but they reportedly did talk about this issue in discussions with officials. Rwandan authorities responded that local officials had never been instructed to use force and that those who had done so had acted on their own initiative. They provided no explanation about why these cases were so numerous, why they happened more frequently in some prefectures than in others, or why national officials had not intervened to end the abuses. According to one participant in these discussions, the question was simply dropped when it became clear that donors and Rwandan authorities could not reach consensus on it.100 Still the funding request seemed to take account of this concern. It stated:
At the same time, it is important to underscore that resettlement in the Rwandan
context involves providing habitat for people who do not currently have suitable
accommodation. It does not involve removing people from suitable homes which
they legally occupy.101
The government promised also that implementation would involve "broad consultations at all levels." It continued:
Guidelines on the implementation of the policy will be made available to all
stakeholders, particularly those at the grassroots level. These will include [the]legal
context of the programme regarding land, rights of imidugudu inhabitants and a
By October 2000 the government had not defined the "rights" of imidugudu residents, nor did important local officials-at least in Kibungo prefecture-want others to do so. Representatives of a human rights association organized training seminars in September and October for elected officials at the cell and sector level in Kibungo. According to national authorities, these officials at the grassroots level were to play a key part in assuring a "participatory" approach to implementing the habitat policy. When the human rights trainers explained guarantees of property and housing rights in international and Rwandan law, members of the audience at several sessions raised concerns about measures to force people into imidugudu and to appropriate their land. Prefectural officials present at the meetings disapproved of such questions and the prefect of Kibungo asked the trainers to give lessattention to property rights in future presentations.103 In another case, the semi-official newspaper Imvaho Nshya criticized the minister for internal security and a parliamentary deputy for "sowing confusion" in alleged secret meetings organized in their prefecture of origin, Cyangugu. According to the journalist, the willingness of people to share their lands diminished as a result of these meetings, which were also supposedly linked to upcoming elections.104
82 CCA Working Paper, no. 3, p. 7. Emphasis in the original.
84 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, August 5, 2000.
85 Human Rights Watch interviews, Gisenyi, January 14, 2000 and Ruhengeri, February 25, 2000.
86 Human Rights Watch, field notes, December 28, 2000.
87 From 1994 through 1999. Government of Rwanda, "Thematic Consultation, p. 2.
88 CCA Working Paper, no. 3, p. 8.
89 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, October 23, 2000.
90 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, April 10, 1999.
91 CCA Working Paper, no. 3, p. 7.
92 Discussion Note on the Report to the Steering Committee Meeting on Resettlement (2 December 1999) addressed to Ms. Patricia Hajabakiga, Secretary General, Ministry of Land, Human Resettlement and Environmental Protection, 24 December 1999.
94 UNDP Memo, "Common UNDP Position on Assistance in the context of the Imidugudu Policy" [December, 1999].
95 "Comments from the NGO Thematic Group on Settlement and Land Issues on the Report of the Thematic Consultation on Resettlement," enclosed in letter from the NGO Thematic Group on settlement and villagisation to Mrs. Patricia Hajabakiga, Secretary General, Ministry of Land, Human Resettlement and Environmental Protection, Kigali, 10/01/2000.
96 Patricia Hajabakiga to Ms. Jeannette Seppen, First Secretary, Embassy of the Netherlands, Kigali, 11/1/2000, no. 013/16.02, with copies to nine other recipients.
97 Government of Rwanda, "Thematic Consultation, pp. 1, 23.
98 CCA Working Paper, no. 3, pp. 8-9.
99 Government of Rwanda, "Thematic Consultation, pp. 9-11.
100 Human Rights Watch interviews, Kigali, July 13, August 15, 2000.
101 Government of Rwanda, "Thematic Consultation," p. 1.
102 Government of Rwanda, "Thematic Consultation," p. 25.
103 Human Rights Watch interviews, Kigali, October 23 and 31, 2000.
104 Frank Ndamage, "Rwaka and Nsabimana Sow Confusion in Cyangugu Prefecture," Imvaho Nshya, no. 1365, December 4-10, 2000.
105 Radio Rwanda, evening news, November 25 and December 11, 2000.
106 Radio Rwanda, Evening News, November 2, 2000.
At the end of 2000, government authorities seemed to be using persuasion more than coercion to persuade rural dwellers to relocate. They advertised the benefits of living grouped together on the radio and they brought delegations from other prefectures to Kibungo to visit imidugudu.105
But in some areas, including Cyangugu prefecture, officials continued to move people against their will into imidugudu. Authorities also initiated a new round of sharing the land in the prefecture of Gikongoro where the policy had not been in effect and where relatively few returnees had settled. Officials spurred landholders in two sectors of Karama commune to share their property with returnees who arrived in Gikongoro in late 2000 after having spent several years in Kigali or elsewhere in Rwanda. Like several of the cases mentioned above, some of those called upon to cede their land to returnees then decided to move to imidugudu, apparently because they had no more land left or too little left to provide for their subsistence.106